Alan Noble

It’s a smaller world – Part 3

by Alan Noble on November 5, 2013

Editor’s note: This is the final of three parts written by my friend Alan Noble on his experience of living in Nairobi, Kenya after the Westgate Mall attack there in September.

Westgate Mall, NairobiLast time we considered how advances in travel and technology have enabled many amazing opportunities in our world to grow closer together. But advances have also resulted in bringing the unfiltered mayhem into our experience, often live and in colour. Not only has this been described as progress, it seems to be implied that this also is true information democracy, part of the complex, changing, and smaller world in which we live.

No more apparent is this complexity than in Nairobi, where the recent Westgate Mall attack has brought this to the fore. In short order, the relatively safe place we had come to know actually now resembled the place that had been described to us when we first moved here: insecure, unsafe, with rampant corruption.

These three descriptors underline our new experience, and were evidenced at the Mall. There are guards all across this country. Day and night, at practically every gate, they are there. It gives a certain measure of confidence. Yet, we know that while they stand, sit or patrol, they do so without anything more than a club. They do not have guns. Bad guys have guns, our guards do not. So, you see, it gives us a measure of confidence—but not a lot. Safety and security are lacking.

Westgate Mall, NairobiAnd then the corruption. It was plain to see at the mall. News outlets have reported that the gunshots we heard during the last few days of the siege were in fact the defense forces shooting the locks off the safes to steal from them. Corruption beyond belief.

So, what does this mean to us living here? Not surprisingly, this event has transformed the way I look at safety and security, and how we now live. It has effectively enforced upon us boundaries that were previously not apparent, though subtly imposed. We could pretty much come and go as we pleased during the day, while at night we’d be more aware and cautious.

Presently, though I don’t feel unsafe, I am aware that our former boundaries no longer suit our circumstances. Instead, we are now held to boundaries within which we actively acknowledge the limitations and recognise the risks. We are on our own. If there is a fire, like recently at the main international airport, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, there is little expectation that fire brigades will come to the rescue. If there are robbers, we have been told, unless someone is dead, the police will not respond. It is within this revised set of expectations and realities that I am painfully aware that life has changed. Not necessarily because the events happened, but because now the limitations have now been revealed.

Melancholy though this may sound, it is not in fact how I live. There are many places in the world that are far better—and I’ve lived in some. But there are also places that are far worse, and I’ve been to some as well. We indeed live in a smaller world. Advances around us have provided opportunities beyond our imagination. Access to information and distant lands are moments or short hours away.

Technology and travel make it easier to connect with both the good and the bad around us. Living here in a different country at a time of great tragedy has made both the positives and the negatives of our increasingly small world more apparent. But it also makes our own personal choices clearer: Will we choose to trust God and live in the positive, or give into the despair and baser instincts fostered by the mis-use of technology and travel? It may not be easy, but for me and my family, we will choose the former. How about you?

Read Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t yet…

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It’s a smaller world – Part 2

by Alan Noble on October 30, 2013

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a three part series written by my friend Alan Noble regarding how travel and technology have affected his life living in Nairobi, Kenya.

Last time I wrote about how advances in the world, particularly in travel and technology, have made it a smaller place. Often, those advances are good. But not always.

The joys we experience through travel and technology can and do often blow our minds. We marvel at new sights and feel “right there” through satellite-enabled video that puts us into the heart of someplace we’ve never been before. The flipside is that the same technology that makes our amazement so real likewise makes the horrors in our world – our increasingly small world – equally real. What I’ve come to learn, especially by living in another country, is that advancement doesn’t always equal progress.

The ability to watch the tsunami thrashing hotels and homes doesn’t necessarily mean that I should. This past summer I found myself gripped by the video that a witness taped of the crash of the Asiana Airlines airplane at San Francisco International Airport. I watched it over and over before I even was aware of my fixation. That advancement in technology, though an extension of our access to our world around us, is not what I would call progress.

The same applies to the recent events at the Westgate Mall, not far from my new home here in Nairobi. Many people ask if we were surprised by the attacks at the mall. We were not. We’d been given regular warnings about that place being a target due to its prime location for both Westerners and locals and its easy access. However, we were surprised and even sickened by the brazen, calculated, and brutal disregard of all people, including many women and children—who are typically left alone in assaults like these. Every bit of the focus by the attackers was on taking advantage of the sensational media attention that they garnered in the process. The technology that I so love, actually fortified the attackers with the massive attention that they sought.

Ironically, I didn’t have to travel far to experience all this. It came to me – who now lives minutes away from the scene – in the same way it came to my friends back home in the US. In this case, it didn’t matter where in this small world you lived. Technology created a level playing field for the messages and images to get out.

Having said that, what I am finding is that the repercussions of the event are radically different for those of us who are physically present in this city where the attacks occurred. In the next installment we will look at how insecurity in light of the attacks now impacts our thinking and changes how we view the world in which we live…especially our own corner of it.

To be continued…

If you haven’t done so yet, read Part 1 here

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It’s a smaller world – Part 1

by Alan Noble on October 24, 2013

Editor’s Note: I’ve asked my friend Alan Noble to share some of his experience of living in Nairobi, Kenya. Alan and I worked together years ago at World Vision, the international Christian relief and development organization where Alan still is employed. This is the first of three parts.

Airplane Wing and Clouds

How does one write about an event that is both tragic and life-changing—especially if it is being written for someone else’s blog? The best approach, it seems, is to ease in slowly, delicately. So, here goes.

When my son, Kyle, was young I shared a set of Seattle Seahawks season tickets with a colleague. The seats were located in the “nose-bleed” section: second to the last row, back corner of the end zone, at the top of the Kingdome. It was a long way up. Carrying food, seat cushions, drinks, backpacks. It really was a long, long way up.

Even if it was a long, long, long way up, it was awesome—every game. Win or lose (and they often lost), it was a great time, shared together. Kyle wanted to be a football player because of those games. I resolved never to let him play football because of those games. We still discuss that conflict periodically. Kyle is mostly happy that I prevailed, especially since he now knows what a concussion feels like—twice!

Spring forward a dozen years, and those memories still remain—sitting with my son, eating hot dogs, sometimes even seeing the Seahawks move the ball in the right direction. Enjoying the moments together. Missing the opportunities to experience those moments again.

You see, Kyle is married and now lives in North Carolina. I live in Nairobi, Kenya where my work has now taken me. Two points on the map, two continents. Yet, though many miles separate us, we find that it is a small world.

Modern travel has shown us this new reality. In a very short time, one can fly for a few hours and arrive halfway around the world to see a family member, discover a deserted beach, visit a famed museum—or click on a website or a TV button and enjoy English Premier football, sample a selection of island homes for purchase, or arrange for your next travel adventure. And like Kyle and me, one can even experience technological advances like Skype and Google Hangouts, or relatively cheap phone call rates, that enable us to stay connected—almost as if we were next door or down the hall.

In the small world in which we live, the advances in travel and technology have effectively eliminated the reality of distance and accelerated the pace of communication. I like both travel and technology. But for all the positives they bring, advances aren’t always indications of progress. Sometimes advances can lead to abuse and ill will towards others.

I found this out a few weeks ago during the terrorist attack on a mall here in Kenya. It has forever changed how I perceive both travel and technology.

I’ll explain this more next time, but for now, let me leave you with this question: How has access to travel and technology changed the way you view your world?

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